Now that the midseason finale of AMC's smash hit series The Walking Dead has aired, you can't swing a cat without hitting an interview with a member of the show's cast or creative team. This time, showrunner Glen Mazzara talked to Entertainment Weekly at length about what went down on Sunday's big episode and what to expect when the post-apocalyptic drama returns from its hiatus in February.
Since the show began, fans of the comic book series have been wondering when the popular character Tyreese would be introduced on the television series. While he appeared very early in the comics' run, it has taken two-and-a-half years for Tyreese to leap from the page to the screen. Why now? "We are really interested in expanding the world, and I think it's interesting to introduce Tyreese, who is a good character, and to bring him in at a time when Rick does not want anybody to join the group. Rick is obviously losing his mind and just wants to shut off the world," Mazzara explained. "Now we have these two camps clearly delineated: We have the prison group and we have Woodbury. Now let's bring in Tyreese. Let's bring in a third factor, and the story of Tyreese will be very, very interesting throughout the rest of the season. It will be very surprising to the audience and just throws another ball into the mix. So it is really about making the story as complicated and as surprising as possible."
Going back to the source material again, David Morrissey's portrayal of The Governor has been far more nuanced and subtle than his over-the-top comic book counterpart. Mazzara is full of praise for the character and the actor who brought him to life, especially during the scene when Michonne discovers his zombie daughter Penny. "It's the idea that The Governor is vulnerable — that he sees that girl as somehow still his daughter and sees Michonne as someone who has, in a way, taken his daughter hostage," he noted. "And he says 'please' and he puts his gun down. He'll do anything to save that girl. Very different from the comic book. And it was also surprising to Michonne to see him vulnerable. That's really the first time we've seen the Governor vulnerable. And we've always made sure to make that character as nuanced and textured and as complex as possible. And I think David Morrissey does a fantastic job of taking that character anywhere we want to go." Mazzara also pointed out that viewers were shocked by the Governor's interrogation scene with Maggie the previous week, yet in the comics he went even further. "In last week's episode where he tells Maggie to take her shirt off — what was interesting about fan reaction to that is people were saying, 'Oh, he's gone too far. We have to kill him.' Remember, in the comic book he is actually a rapist," he recalled. "We're just perhaps setting that up, saying that character has that within him, because we do have a long term plan for this character. So to have one episode where you think, 'Wow, he is the arch villain,' and then in the next episode for us to feel sympathetic to him, that he's vulnerable and actually tearful about his own daughter is again just trying to make that character as complicated as possible and keep the audience on their toes."
Another unexpected surprise during the midseason finale was Rick's hallucination of Shane, once again played by Jon Bernthal in a cameo appearance. As Mazzara explains, this vision was another manifestation of Rick's psychological trauma. "We wanted to amp up Rick's hallucinations. We have this thing from the comic book in which he's talking to Lori on the phone and it would not be realistic to suddenly have him back to square one and all of that was forgotten. So the idea that these hallucinations would escalate and become visual is interesting, I think," he suggested. "Especially under duress. Rick has a type of post-traumatic stress syndrome that he's fighting there. So we kept that a secret and called Jon. And Jon was game to come back, and we were really looking forward to seeing the audience reaction when they see that because sometimes spoilers do get out, but we were bale to keep that one a secret. So I was happy with that."
One aspect of the show that I have appreciated, especially since Mazzara took over as showrunner, is the realistic way that the characters act and interact with each other. That also applies to Glenn and Maggie telling Daryl about Merle, rather than hiding it for artificial dramatic purposes. "I believe it was our co-executive producer Evan Reilly who came up with this idea that the two brothers were together at the end of the midseason finale — that scene that you saw. And I just loved it. I was so shocked by that and yet it felt completely plausible," said Mazzara. "So then when we were working on the script, we were trying to preserve the moment where Daryl finds that Merle is there but it didn't feel real for Glenn or Maggie not to tell him, 'This is Merle.' Those would be the first words out of Glenn's mouth, so we just really felt we have to keep the show grounded, keep it real, and do what would really happen. So when we were working on that scene we had Glenn say it because that's something that he would do. It would have felt contrived to not give that information. It just felt organic."
The second half of the season will see different characters continue to evolve and transform as a result of events depicted in the midseason finale. While the Governor will be heading down an even darker path, Michonne will start to open up and trust Rick and the group. "Now she feels like Rick is a good guy and one of the things we'll see is a relationship — not a romantic relationship necessarily — but a relationship, a friendship, a human connection with Rick throughout the back half of the season. They sort of need each other," Mazzara stated. "They've been like two atoms being drawn to each other. So when she goes back there she feels that if she doesn't join Rick's group in some sense, she'll just perish. She probably won't survive out there. At some point some zombie or some bad guy will grab her and nobody will give a s***. She's at rock bottom. She has nothing left. Look at that mess — the fish tanks with heads, and this guy's crying and holding his eye, and the girl's got a sword through her mouth. I don't think you can really hit lower at that point. So she's kind of scared in terms of, what has my life become? And she's looking for a road back. And the only way to do that is by reaching out to Rick and that group."
With the show's fall run finished, Mazzara revealed some tantalizing information concerning the next eight episodes that will air when The Walking Dead returns on February 10. "We're on the road to war. Now that everything is set up, now people have to make choices. Andrea becomes the focal point. She's the connective tissue. She has to make choices about how she's going to deal with this. She's caught between a rock and a hard place and she has to make choices to pick one side or the other or bring the groups together. We now have Merle, who obviously cannot live with Rick because Rick was the one who handcuffed him to the roof, and there's Daryl. So in both groups, everything starts splitting apart," Mazzara teased. "Everybody forms different alliances. Even the Glenn and Maggie relationship is put into disarray because of what transpired in Woodbury and what Glenn thinks maybe happened and what actually did happen. Everybody's traumatized at this point. Everybody's at their weakest point, and now that have to start challenging each other and building each other up. And meanwhile, the two groups are gearing up for war. I'm very proud of the second half of the season. It's just as intense as the first half. There's one episode in the middle of the run that feels like a finale and has just as much as action as you've seen here in this. We are just charging straight ahead. It doesn't slow down. It doesn't get softer."
As I concluded in my review of the midseason finale, it's gonna be a loooong couple of months waiting for the show to come back. How will you cope?